I’d heard whisperings of a new rum bar on Dean Street, but it wasn’t until I received an invitation to the Colonel Porter’s Emporium launch evening last week that I really looked more into it. Before I went along, all I knew was that it was a rum bar/ale tavern with a history that links back to the original creators of Newcastle’s very own Brown Ale. I wasn’t even sure where it was until we were hurrying down Dean Street trying to find it, and we came across the sign swinging under Dean Street bridge on the corner opposite Livello’s and the Vermont Hotel.
Walking in, the best word to describe the entire bar really is ’emporium’. It looked like a combination of the Little Mermaid’s underwater treasure cove, Aladdin’s cave and Hogwarts. The ramp down into the front lounge area snakes around, and the low level chairs are set around small drinks tables, and the fire, complete with rhino head above. Through the archway to the right is the main bar, with high booths for groups, and an exit up to the outside terrace. To the left, through a Union Jack draped archway are more seating areas, booths, and the secret bookcase entrance to the private bar out the back.
There was so much going on, we took our rum cocktail and found a booth to sit and take it all in. On literally every available surface there are ornaments, lamps, artefacts, uniforms, statues, it never ends. At first glance it appears to all be random, but when you know a bit more about the back story it starts to unjumble to make a bit more sense.
The full story is available to read both online and in the leather bound menus in the bar itself, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll summarise. It begins with the creation of Newcastle Brown Ale. The brewer, Colonel Porter joined forces with a chemist to create the local beer, a process which took them a few years, until it was complete in 1927. Labelled with the blue star (representing 5 breweries of Newcastle), it was so popular with the locals in the North East of England, Colonel Porter wanted to distribute it worldwide. The pair sailed and travelled the world to expand the reach of Newcastle Brown Ale, nicknamed ‘Dog’, and is now enjoyed by over 40 countries.
Colonel Porter’s Emporium is a tavern that encompasses this full journey, from the hanging military uniforms framed on the walls, the horse shoes nailed up pillars, maps and sailing equipment, luggage trunks, and even a number of Geordie Magpie’s hidden about the bar. Suddenly what seems like a bar full of clutter actually makes sense, and brings to life the history of Newcastle Brown Ale. As the saying goes, ‘come and see a man about a dog’.
Of course it isn’t just the beer that’s on offer. Colonel Porter’s has a full drinks, cocktail and spirit list spread over all the parchment pages of it’s menu. Sourced from worldwide there’s a huge selection to enjoy whatever your preferred tipple. We had the Durham gin and tonic, and a Mary Pickford cocktail, a blend of Cuban rum, pineapple juice and Maraschino liqueur. Some of the staff were new, and my cocktail took two attempts to make, but it was great to see that when it wasn’t exactly right first time round, I didn’t even need to ask they just asked if it was OK to redo it, and took it upon themselves.
While they perfected it, I went up to the outside terrace to have a look. Up the ramp and passed the huge brown ale and blue star in the window, the outside courtyard is small, but a good city central space to enjoy. Once my cocktail was ready and I came back through to the lounge where we moved to one of the tiny tables, there was a singer crooning away in the lounge area. It was a totally different vibe to anything else I’ve experienced in Newcastle, and it’s about time this location on Dean Street is home to somewhere that actually might take off.
We tried plenty of nibbles, which were all delicious, and I’d really like to go back for a Sunday Dinner. I think it’s a great day drinking type bar, but I’d also like to see how it holds it’s own in an evening. There’s private hire available too, through the secret bookcase door. Drinks were reasonable, our rounds of a cocktail and a G&T came to about 12 which is pretty standard for Newcastle.
Geordie’s love the local history, and this place is perfect for it. Nothing is in there by chance, including one or two brown bears, all of which are facing or pointing North, of course.
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